Strange fruit 

A collection of lynching photos holds a painful mirror to Southern history

Page 4 of 4

In several Southern states, steps toward dealing with the past have begun. In February, a commission established by the Oklahoma legislature recommended reparations for the survivors of a 1921 riot in Tulsa in which hundreds of blacks were killed. The state of Florida already has paid reparations to the survivors of a white race riot that destroyed the town of Rosewood in 1923. Earlier this year, a judge in Chattanooga, Tenn., exonerated lynching victim Ed Johnson, concluding that he was falsely accused of rape and convicted unfairly before his death at the hands of a mob in 1905 -- the day after the U.S. Supreme Court ordered he receive a new trial. In Alabama, two former Klansmen have been arrested for the notorious 1963 bombing of a Birmingham church that killed four girls.

And, next month in Georgia's Capitol, legislators are expected to give serious debate to a proposal to restore Georgia's pre-1956 state flag, which in the heat of the civil rights era was replaced with one bearing the Confederate battle emblem.

In his afterword for Without Sanctuary, Allen offers his own reflections on how he came to create this collection, how it has affected him and how the dead faces in the photographs, such as John Richards, haunt him. "African-Americans have been gracious about the book, but it's unlocked a lot of boxes," says Allen. "A man at the exhibit in New York pulled me aside and asked 'What's wrong with you -- don't you understand that the feeling I have for those people in the photos are the same feelings I have when I see you?' I said, 'Yeah, I bet you do. But I think you can get through that.' I hope we all can."

This article first appeared in The Spectator, CL's sister paper in Raleigh, N.C. Stephanie Ramage contributed to details for Atlanta readers.


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